VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Time for travel firms to play fair on refunds

VICTORIA BISCHOFF: It’s time for travel and events firms to start playing fair on refunds

At the start of the first lockdown, we urged readers to be patient and not to chase refunds.

Businesses had been forced to close overnight and were struggling to get to grips with staff suddenly working from home.

So to support the travel and events industries, we advised that if you could afford to accept a credit note instead of a cash refund, or to rebook for a later date rather than cancel, you should.

After a year of constantly changing travel rules, people would rather have their money back for other uses, or to set aside for a new plan when things have settled

People have lost loved ones, or their own health has suffered and they can no longer travel. Others cannot afford to go away after losing their jobs or livelihoods. And some simply don’t want to deal with any more uncertainty or disappointment.

After a year of constantly changing travel rules, they would rather have their money back for other uses, or to set aside for a new plan when things have settled.

Yet many loyal customers are now paying through the nose for their earlier generosity. 

As we report, some firms are stubbornly refusing to swap vouchers for cash refunds, even in the most tragic circumstances.

Others will not extend expiry dates or allow people to transfer bookings to a friend or relative without paying a costly fee.

This is inexcusable, given many customers were misled into thinking they had no choice but to accept vouchers in the first place.

Meanwhile, Money Mail’s inbox is flooded every week with tales from readers at their wits’ end because companies will not respond to their calls and emails.

Many are still waiting for refunds for trips called off more than a year ago. While others who made travel plans through third-party booking sites are being passed from pillar to post.

And those who are due to travel in the coming weeks and months are being told they cannot have a refund because their trip hasn’t technically been cancelled — even though it is currently illegal to travel overseas for a holiday.

Enough is enough. The Competition and Markets Authority did a brilliant job of standing up for consumers in the early days of the pandemic. And, over the past 12 months, the watchdog has issued several stern warnings where firms have failed to play fair. Yet it is clear from our overflowing postbag that the fight is far from over.

I have enormous sympathy for travel and events companies — but it is not down to customers to act as a bailout fund.

Lenders, beware

Last week, banks were given the green light to resume repossession proceedings where homeowners have fallen behind on mortgage payments, after a moratorium during lockdown.

Banking trade body UK Finance previously warned that home repossessions could surge tenfold in 2022, after millions of borrowers saw their incomes decimated last year.

More than 100,000 homeowners are still relying on mortgage repayment holidays.

So it would be unforgivable if lenders were to take advantage of the opportunity to bombard struggling households with threatening letters.

We will be watching.

Smart savings

Whenever someone asks me about smart meters, the conversation always seems to end with me raving about Hive – a smart thermostat which allows you to control your heating and hot water from your mobile phone.

It means you can turn the heating on while you’re on your way home so it’s cosy when you get in – or ramp it up without even needing to get up off the couch.

You can also use it to control smart plugs, which are useful if, like me, you are forever wondering if you’ve left your hair straighteners turned on. Just one tap on the app and the plug is turned off.

One thing I could live without, however, is the regular emails comparing the temperature of my home to others in the region.

Although, if the intention is to guilt-trip me into turning down the thermostat, it’s working.

Hive’s most recent report showed that my flat was 0.5 degrees colder than other homes over winter.